In 1889 the 24-year-old W B Yeats wrote in his introduction to Stories from Carleton: ‘If you would know Ireland – body and soul – you must read its poems and stories.’ He was struck by the sound of two different accents in Anglo-Irish literature: that of the gentry and that of the peasantry and near-peasantry; those who lived ‘lightly and gaily’ and those who took man’s fortunes ‘seriously’, even ‘mournfully’. In such phrases one catches hints of Yeats’s own distinctive accent.
This volume contains the Carleton introduction and Yeats’s two-volume anthology of 19th century Irish fiction, Representative Irish Tales, first published in 1891. The selection gives samples taken from Maria Edgeworth, Lover, Lever, Griffin, John and Michael Banim and others – and also tells us much about the direction in which the young Yeats was to travel.
After finishing ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’ in 1888 Yeats began to scrutinise the folklore and character of the Irish peasant. Earlier, Yeats had glimpsed him through the poetry of William Allingham and Samuel Ferguson but he had now begun to think that the work of these two poets was contrived,